Mike Cain handed me a little book the other day: Letters from the Desert by Carlo Carretto. It was something his wife had picked up at the church thrift shop.
I’ve never heard of Mr. Carretto (although I ended up doing an internet search to learn something about him). A couple of nights later I took the book home. At a late hour I picked it up to read the introduction. And it happened again. It was one of those can’t-stop-reading books that catch you by surprise sometimes. I had to put it down finally to go to sleep but this weekend I’m setting everything else aside to finish it.
This has happened to me once before when my friend Carol Guinn passed me a copy of Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird, a Jesuit priest. That seemed like a little book, too, but it has earned a spot on my essential reading list when I teach about prayer.
Mr. Carretto, at mid-life, sensed God calling him to leave everything and head for the Sahara desert for a life of solitude and prayer. A major turning point for him was the day he burned his personal address book in which were the names and contact information of hundreds of his friends back home in Italy. This book, first published in 1964, is a sort of letter to all those loved ones he left behind, recounting what he learned in the desert solitude.
“Don’t try to reach God with your understanding; that is impossible. Reach him in love; that is possible.”
Carlo repeats the word from the Lord that set the final direction for his life:
“Leave everything and come with me into the desert. It is not your acts and deeds that I want; I want your prayer, your love.”
Carlo reflects on that word.
“I am completely convinced that one never wastes one’s time by praying; there is no more helpful way of helping those we love.”
What Carlo writes in these few words is not at all something he found easy to do. You can practically hear the shock in his voice as he considers this reality:
“Love transforms me slowly into God. But sin is still there, resisting this transformation, knowing how to, and actually saying ‘no’ to love.”
Fortunately, God’s love and mercy do not fail us. Carlo realizes the grace of the invitation he (and all of us) receive:
“The hope on which my prayer rests is in the fact that it is he who wants it. And if I go to keep the appointment it is because he is already there waiting for me.”